Excerpt from Death by Drowning

Prologue  

    He silently paddled the kayak through the chilly waters of the Kentucky River, alone except for occasional river otters slipping playfully down their muddy slides or the screech owl beckoning mournfully from a redbud tree ready to open its pink blossoms announcing spring in the Bluegrass. 

    There were no homes on this part of the river––just low sloping farmland on one side of the river and the high gray limestone wall of the Palisades on the other.   He didn’t need the lights of buildings to help navigate the river.  He knew the curving green ribbon of water like his own flesh––besides, there was a full moon.  He could see fine––just like the catamounts that roamed the Palisades. Every so often he could hear one of them scream.  Their eerie cries might have given a lesser man pause, but his mind was made up.

    Finally, he came to one of the few sandy beaches on the river and beached the beat-up, green kayak, dragging it upon the loose sand.  On either side of the kayak were tied red gasoline cans.  He cut the ropes binding them with quick, assured movements.  He tugged on a waterproof bag, checked its contents of rags, matches, and lighters, and then slung it across his back.  He had several miles to trek before he reached his destination.  He began the march.  There was no doubt or wavering in his manner.  His features showed no sign of the tension that was churning in his gut. 

   He was not going to waste any more time thinking of an alternative.  He was determined.  There was a vineyard to burn.  

1

    Death had stood on the doorstep and knocked on my door––but I didn’t answer.  I didn’t die. There were days I wished I had––the pain was so great.  

    I don’t remember very much except that I awoke once only to open one swollen eye slightly to see Matt, my best friend, reading to me.   Over his shoulder stood Brannon, my late husband, observing the both of us. Seeing me conscious, Brannon said, “He’s reading to you from the Book of Ruth.”  

    Ruth, my favorite story from the Old Testament, told the tale of loyalty between two women facing starvation.   When the mother-in-law, Naomi, tries to turn Ruth away in order to save her, Ruth says, “Where thou goest, I go; where you lodge, I lodge; your people shall be my people; 

your god shall be my god; where you die, there shall I also be buried.”   

    It was too bad Brannon had never understood this concept of loyalty when alive.  Now dead, he was nothing but a pile of dust in a cardboard box stored in my walk-in closet. What was he doing here now? Brannon turned so I could see my daughter asleep in a chair lodged in a corner.  Loyalty.  I smiled. At least, I think I smiled.  

    Matt turned a page and kept reading.  I realized that I couldn’t hear Matt.  I thought to myself––why can’t I hear?

    “You’re deaf, Josiah,” Brannon said.  “From the fall.”  He held out his hand.  “Come with me.”

    I’m not going anywhere with you.  You abandoned me,I thought in a huff.

    “Where we’re going, your anger won’t matter.  It will be forgotten.”

    Go away, Brannon.  Mad at you.  Mad. Mad.  Mad.

    “Ah, Josey, you were always stubborn,” he chided, his image fading. 

    Closing my good eye, I slipped back into a coma.  I didn’t awaken until several weeks later. I couldn’t stand the intense pain and would have flung myself out a window––if I could have moved.   

    When my daughter begged the doctors to put me back into a medical coma, they refused.   They were going to let me sweat it out.  My daughter couldn’t stand the screaming––my screaming.   

    I must be rotten deep inside the way I hated them, the very men and women who saved my life, but hate them I did.  I loathed the way they thought they were doing me a great favor by prescribing measly dosages of pain medication.  I reviled their condescension, their tired jokes and heartless procedures.  That suffering is good for the soul is a fool’s philosophy.   I don’t like pain and have no use for suffering.

    Neither has my daughter. 

    I hazily remember bits and pieces of leaving the hospital––Matt leaning over me and holding my hand, mouthing goodbye; the doctors arguing with my daughter as she had the bandages, IV’s, monitors and everything else, including me, packed up; the humming of the plane engines as I was flown to Key West where the medical profession doesn’t frown on dispensing large dosages of painkillers. 

    I was later told the decision to move me to Key West was made on that day when I was shrieking like a lunatic about the unbearable throbbing on my left side . . . the side that impacted the cliff ledge . . . because the doctors wouldn’t give me more morphine.  

    My daughter installed me in a three-bedroom bungalow complete with a pool on the ocean.  She brought in her own physician’s assistant to stay with me. Then what pain medication she couldn’t get legally, she bought off the black market.   I didn’t scream again.    

    During the few times I was somewhat lucid, I tried to ask her what had happened, but my lips wouldn’t move.  The guttural noises spilling from my mouth were confusing and animal-like, so I fell back asleep.  I dreamt I was falling, falling, falling from a cliff, plunging into the murky swirling water of the Kentucky River.    

    I sat up.  

    Somewhere a bell rang loudly.  A man with a military crew cut ran into the room and leaned toward me.  He frightened me, so I tried pushing him away with my hands, but only my right hand would move and not in the direction I wanted.  

    Who was this man?  Was it O’Nan?  Were we still fighting?  Were we falling off the cliff together?  No, that was Sherlock Holmes falling off Reichenbach Falls with Moriarty.  

    The strange man morphed into Basil Rathbone as he turned off a monitor.  He was wearing a Key West T-shirt and shorts.  A chuckle bubbled up my throat thinking of Sherlock Holmes in shorts.  Sherlock turned toward the bed and smiled.  There was a gap in his front teeth.  Now, his face reminded me of Alfred E. Neuman’s, but more exotic, more ethnic.  I couldn’t place why.  His lips were moving and I concentrated to understand what he was saying

    Why couldn’t I hear him?

    “My name is Jacob Dosh.  You can call me Jake.  I am a physician’s assistant.  I’ll be taking care of you,” he said in loud, exaggerated tones.  He held a silver pen light, which he kept flashing into my eyes. “You’ve had an accident, but you’re all right.  I need to check you.  Understand? Nod yes, if that is okay.”  The man smiled and repeated what he had said––again and again.  

    It finally sank in.  I nodded slightly.  

    His hands were warm and gentle, almost caressing as they moved about my body.  There were calluses on his fingers and a raised scar down the length of his left forefinger.    

    My skin was extremely sensitive to touch.  

    I felt the vibrations of someone running into the room. 

    My daughter peered anxiously from the foot of the bed and then spoke to the man. 

    I whispered her name and tried to keep my head up, but sank back into the pillows.   I mumbled, “Watson?”  Sherlock and I were on a case in London.       

    Sherlock shook my shoulder again.  “Hey, stay with us.  Don’t go back to sleep.”  

    Struggling to keep my eyes open, I attempted to smile at my daughter, but couldn’t make my lips curl up.

    “Well,” said the man called Jake, checking my vital signs. “Who’s Watson?” 

    My daughter grinned.  “The sidekick to my mother’s favorite beekeeper, Sherlock Holmes.”

   “Sherlock Holmes was a beekeeper?”

   “He retired in Sussex Downs and kept bees.  He wrote The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture.”

    Jake scribbled on a chart and placed it on the end of the rented hospital bed.  “I always thought Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character.  I didn’t know he was real.”

   My daughter waved to me.  “Cut down on the morphine.  She’s ready to come back to the living.”

   But my daughter was wrong.  I wasn’t.  I liked living in the dream world of Morpheus, believing I was safe, knowing that in real time, tragedy cannot be undone.  Tragedy was a bucking horse.  Sometimes you were able 

to stay in the saddle and ride it out––sometimes not. 

   I wasn’t even prepared to put my foot in the stirrup.